(KQED Perspective aired September 04)

During the fall we occasionally have hot dry winds blowing from the east. In southern California these are referred to as the Santa Ana’s because they blow out into San Pedro Channel through the Santa Ana Pass. In the San Francisco we should call them Diablo winds because they blow in from the Diablo Range of the inner coast mountains. In the Pacific Northwest they are called Chinooks, which is a Native American word that means snow eater. In Europe there are many names for hot winds that blow up from the Sahara. The Spanish call it Leveche; the Germans the foehn. To most Europeans these winds are known as the Sirocco – derived from an Arabic word that means east wind. In the Sudan this wind is called harmattan – the wind laden with blood-red dust.
But whatever you call those winds, they evoke strong, usually depressing emotions. They are allegedly full of positive ions which are supposed to negatively affect humans and their behavior. In contrast, areas full of negative ions are waterfalls and mountain tops – peaceful, relaxing places. I have read that Swiss surgeons will refuse to operate when a sirocco is blowing because they believe blood won’t clot as well. The Oakland firestorm, the Watts Riots, the Loma Prieta earthquake and the Pt. Reyes/Mt Vision fire all took place during strong hot winds. In fact Californians often refer to this kind of fall climate as Earthquake weather. Which makes no sense but there is always a sense of foreboding when those hot winds are blowing.
Raymond Chandler described it best in this passage “On nights like that [when the Santa Ana blows] every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of a carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.”

OK, well maybe it wasn’t that bad for you this week but things always seem to get more on edge during the Diablo’s. But soon enough the winter storms will be here and hot dry winds will be but a distant memory. This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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August 5, 2009